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Mobile Phones Open New World With One-Touch Communications
A soft touch on a mobile phone key opens a new world thanks to various push-to-share services, which allow users get through to business associates, family and friends without dialing.
Korean mobile operators look to embark on the push-to-talk (PTT) services, the first of the push-to-share series that provides customers a fast connection to multiple parties with whom they communicate most _ all at the same time.
Only one person can talk at a time and one or several others can listen. One button controls this walkie-talkie feature.
Icons on phone screens show a list of contacts and indicates who is available, similar to the "friends and contacts lists" on Internet chat programs.
The device also saves time as there is no need to wait for a dial tone or endure busy signals.
The United States has set the tone for walkie-talkie phones as Motorola developed the service-specific network, dubbed integrated digital enhanced network (iDEN), in 1994, and Nextel Communications launched the device.
However, South Korea is nudging past the U.S., led by the nation`s two flagship phone manufacturers _ Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics _ to develop more advanced models,
LG, the world`s fifth-largest handset provider, unveiled a push-to-view (PTV) phone, which enables video conferencing under wideband code division multiple access (W-CDMA), this month.
Samsung, the third-biggest, took the wraps off a push-to-all (PTA) product late last week with combined functions of voice calls, video telephony and data transfer.
Walkie-Talkie Services in Korea
Nextel was the forerunner in the deployment of PTT services in the U.S. Owing to its two-way chatter, the company grew into the fifth-largest mobile carrier in the country with about 15-million clients.
The firm`s fancy services, which resulted in strong loyalty from its subscribers, prompted bigger carrier Sprint to take it over at $35 billion in January.
In Korea, KT Powertel embraced the iDEN to start the walkie-talkie services in 1998. The KT subsidiary, the nation`s dominant fixed-line telecom firm, today retains about 300,000 subscribers.
Among those using the service with a 0130 dialing prefix, most are corporate customers, including building constructors, taxi or truck drivers and sales agents, attracted by the cheap price tag
"We provide instant call services at 10 won per 10 seconds, which is about half of other wireless carriers` rates, while guaranteeing high-quality service," a KT Powertel spokesman said.
However, the compelling services are not available to Korea`s 36 million mobile subscribers, who are communicating based on CDMA, the brainchild of U.S.-based Qualcomm.
Top wireless carrier SK Telecom and KTF, the runner-up operator, are currently checking the commercial viability of the offerings that may enhance their bottom lines.
In fact, there are no roadblocks en route to the full-fledged mobile phone walkie-talkie services if carriers adopt them because terminals are already developed.
Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics have already rolled out CDMA-enabled PTT phones and started exporting them to the U.S. last year.
Daeshin Securities analyst Lee Young-yong sees great potential in the future of the service.
"PTT is a tested-and-tried service, which helps wireless operators increase their revenue. It will eventually prove to be a hit in Korea and mobile carriers must move fast," Lee said.
He added that the immediacy of the instant two-way chatter can hit the right chord with Korea`s main handset purchasers _ the trend-conscious younger generation.
PTV and PTA phones have surfaced as a more advanced version of push-to-share applications led by Korean makers.
Motorola released the world`s first PTV phone, operated under its in-housed developed iDEN, last November and the high-end gizmo is currently in use via KT Powertel in Korea.
An advantage of the PTV phone is synchronous video conferencing ability, similar to a walkie-talkie with video capabilities.
The speaker`s image appears instantly on the handset display and multiple users on the call. The feature materializes virtual meetings among people in distant locations.
Early this month, LG Electronics also unveiled its own PTV phone, operable on the third-generation (3G) W-CDMA networks.
LG competitor Samsung Electronics is by no means sitting idly by.
Last Thursday, the world got the first glimpse of PTA mobile phone technology when Samsung showcased the next-generation models operated under CDMA2000 1x EV-DO (evolution data only).
The PTA handset encompasses all kinds of one to multi-user communication solutions like PTT, PTV and push-to-data, or multimedia file sharing functions.
In addition to a video-conferencing function, the PTA handset allows users to transmit images, video clips and music contents to multiple users simultaneously.
However, there still remain technical challenges before these services begin full operation, such as the narrow bandwidth of the networks.
The current 3G networks, including Korea`s EV-DO, designed to be best fit for data downlink show glitches in running PTV and PTT programs, which need broader bandwidth for both uplink and downlink.
"PTV and PTA phones will be commercialized only after W-CDMA networks are installed across the nation. But, when the infrastructure is ready, the services will enter the mainstream," Daishin analyst Lee predicted.
W-CDMA is a European 3G mobile technology, which boasts of an average data transmission speed of 1-2 megabits per second (Mbps), two times faster than the current EV-DO.
In addition, W-CDMA guarantees fast downloads and uploads of data while EV-DO is mainly for downlink with its uplink speed hardly hitting 200 Kbps.
W-CDMA enables interactive video calls, video conferencing and PTV and PTA enable offerings on the move.
W-CDMA services were launched here in late 2003 with little impact on the industry. The government expects the genuine W-CDMA offerings to start this year with increased investment.